Reclaim Your Glow: Skincare After Pregnancy

Reclaim Your Glow: Skincare After Pregnancy

Congratulations! Your baby has arrived! We hope you’re enjoying the snuggles and warm, fuzzy nights. Most new mothers will also face sleepless nights and hormonal changes, which can wreak havoc on your complexion. With little time for basic things like sleep, figuring out the complexities of postpartum skincare can feel like a huge burden. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered. Here’s what you need to know about your post-baby skin.

While you’re settling into the swing of things, you might be thinking about how to resume your skincare routine. Perhaps you’d like to address some pesky dark circles under your eyes, or you might feel like your skin is dull and dry. If you’re nursing, you might be getting conflicting advice on safe ingredients to use. We have good news! Once your bundle of joy joins the world, most skincare ingredients are now safe to use, as most topical ingredients are not absorbed into the body in any significant amount. Even if you are nursing, most topical ingredients are safe unless applied directly to the nipple or breast or anywhere baby might accidentally ingest it.  A great resource for mamas to double check the safety of ingredients is LactMed (previously maintained by the National Institutes of Health) or InfantRisk (paid app, but used by many physicians.) As with pregnancy, if you are concerned, check with your pediatrician. However, as long as products aren’t applied to the neck and chest where your baby might come into direct contact with or ingest the ingredients, most products are likely safe. Some general guidelines are below. A great scientific resource is this 2014 article.


You can resume use of topical retinoids and retinols at night. Be cautious initially as your skin may still be adjusting - dermatologists recommend starting with a small, pea sized amount applied to dry skin, starting 2 nights a week and increasing slowly as tolerated. Follow with a moisturizer, especially if you tend to have dry skin. 
Sunscreen as always is a must, applied daily in the morning to the face (and neck, and décolletage if exposed.) Many women may have questions about the safety of chemical sunscreens—we will address this in a future post so stay tuned! If you are concerned about absorption of chemical sunscreens, there are many good mineral-based sunblocks on the market available in all price ranges. 

Dry skin

Moisturizers with ingredients like hyaluronic acid and squalene, can help draw moisture into the skin to help that extra-dry feeling that can appear when you are tired and focused on other things. Repairing the skin barrier with ceramides can also help. If you have limited time (like all new moms!), applying a simple, thick moisturizing cream from head to toe after a quick shower will help keep your skin smooth and moisturized. For the face, the simplest skincare regimen ideally still includes washing with a gentle cleanser followed by a moisturizer in the evening. If desired, you can also use a high-quality fragrance-free treatment serum to help address postpartum skin issues. 

Brightening dull skin and gentle exfoliation

The same serums with glycolic and salicylic acid, as well as powerhouse ingredients like vitamin C and niacinamide, are safe, even when nursing. Be cautious when using harsh exfoliating peels or serums though; these may be too irritating when your skin is still sensitive. Try a gentle chemical exfoliant like the Emdash Clear Reveal Resurfacing Serum.

Treating hyperpigmentation / brown spots

Many women may develop temporary hyperpigmentation, or darkening, of the face (especially the forehead and temples, and even the upper lip sometimes!) during and after pregnancy, due to pregnancy-related hormones. Called melasma, another name for this annoying condition is “mask of pregnancy.” Most of these changes are temporary and fade slowly after birth. In some cases, though, the changes can be significant enough to affect how you see yourself. If that is the case, a trip to your dermatologist may be in order to figure out the best treatment regimen. In general, brightening agents like vitamin C, kojic acid, and azelaic acid are safe to use. Again, sun protection is of paramount importance when treating dark spots so regular use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 coverage is essential. 

Hair loss

Many women experience increased shedding of hair a few months after giving birth. While it can be anxiety-provoking, this is often a normal, temporary change, and your hair will usually regrow over time (it’s caused by hormonal changes - what else? - temporarily synchronizing your hair’s growth cycles during pregnancy; many hairs then shed at the same time after birth and then regrow.) Some women experience significant shedding and may worry about permanent hair loss. Your dermatologist can help you determine if there is something else going on, sometimes with blood tests or with close examination. Sometimes, doctors may recommend daily use of topical minoxidil. While no rigorous studies have been done in breastfeeding mothers, systemic absorption is considered low. Even if you opt to just wait out this shedding process, ensuring you get as much rest as possible (which might be hard!) and eating a balanced, healthy diet with adequate protein (hopefully easier!) will also help support hair growth and general health. 

Stretch marks

After your baby is born, you might notice certain areas of your body have these silvery or red streaks. Stretch marks occur when the skin is stretched quickly and the underlying collagen fibers, the support structure of the skin, are overstretched. Family history and genetics plays a large role in determining whether you developed them. Unfortunately there are no proven moisturizers or oils or other ingredients to help prevent stretch marks, and treating them isn’t as simple as applying a cream. Since it’s an actual structural change in the skin, most creams will have a very limited effect. There is some evidence that applying tretinoin, a prescription vitamin A cream, can stimulate collagen regeneration and regrowth to reduce the appearance of the stretch marks, especially when augmented by a procedural approach including lasering or microneedling the skin. This approach has been shown to work best when the stretch marks are “fresh”, or newer and redder. Some patients find that the red color is the most bothersome aspect, and this can also be addressed with the appropriate laser. Fortunately, in most cases the stretch marks will fade over time and become less noticeable (though that also means that treatment is more difficult at that time.) 

Other general tips

As you adjust to your newly expanded family, some other general tips: reach out for help, sleep when you can, and make sure to stay well-hydrated! Avoiding potential irritating ingredients can help you and baby as well; again, dermatologists recommend keeping things simple and using fragrance free products if you have sensitive skin. Many products marketed for babies are heavily scented and might cause irritation of your baby’s sensitive skin and yours. If you are especially sensitive, we recommend you read labels of the products you buy for yourself and baby - things such as detergents, lotions, cleansers, even diaper creams may contain fragrances. Essential oils, which sound natural and safe, can also cause irritation (which we will address in a future blog post). In general, avoiding parabens, fragrance, essential oils, and formaldehyde-releasing ingredients is recommended. 

Cosmetic treatments

If you are interested in cosmetic treatments like Botox and fillers or laser treatments, we recommend you talk to your dermatologist. Many of these conditions may be considered safe as long as they are limited to the skin. Some laser and light treatments may be very helpful for post-pregnancy hyperpigmentation. 

Oral medications

This is a huge category! Sometimes you may have a condition that requires oral medications to treat. If you are nursing, you may be worried about whether or not to take these medications. We recommend talking to your doctor about this. While the list of medications to avoid is much shorter postpartum, some medications may affect milk supply, while others (like doxycycline, a common antibiotic) may be passed in small amounts to baby via breastmilk and with longer-term exposure can cause potential issues. Fortunately, these cases are rare! 

As you ease back into a skincare routine, make sure that you are using only gentle, non-irritating, fragrance-free, clean products. The following Emdash serums are safe for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Vivid Protect Antioxidant Serum can help with the appearance of dark spots and dullness

Clear Reveal Resurfacing Serum is a very gentle chemical exfoliant that will not irritate post-partum skin.

Bright-CE Eye Serum targets dark eye circles, puffiness, and other signs of fatigue.


Disclaimer: As with all our posts, this blog is meant to be for informational and educational purposes, and is not medical advice. When in doubt, please ask your physician.

Teresa Fu, M.D.

Dr. Teresa Fu is a board certified dermatologist and mother of two. She graduated from Stanford Medical School and practices in the San Francisco Bay Area.